Posts Tagged 'verbal abuse'

The Socratic Interaction

XantippeI attended an AAUW (American Association of University Women) meeting recently at which we held a Socratic discussion.  This wonderful form of interaction a was made even more delightful to me when the topic chosen was civility.

I have found that AAUW meetings are usually quite civilized to begin with; a bunch of mature, smart women around the table exchanging ideas instead of soundbites.  The Socratic discussion format further encourages civility by allowing participants to clarify their thinking, examine their assumptions and provide evidence for their opinions.  In addition, the implications of an argument are examined and a space is made for counter arguments.

A lovely time was had by all.  I had feared that the facilitation would be pedantic and dull, but delving into each others’ ideas rather than bashing one another with opinions, resulted in a lively and friendly debate with room for everyone’s ideas.  Not once did an intelligent introvert get talked over or shut down!  The extroverts got their turn to speak as well. It was, in short, the most enlightened verbal interaction I can recall in a group that size.

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Socrates, but I began to remember a bit about him. You might think Socrates developed his methods from debating with his philosopher cronies, and coaching recalcitrant students.  But I also seem to recall that Socrates was married to Xanthippe, whose name has been given to shrews throughout history.  Xanthippe had a reputation for being quite harsh and abusive, even stomping on a cake that a student had given her husband.  Not a nice gal!

In Xenophon, Symposium 17-19, Socrates is quoted:  “And that is just my case. I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else.”

So we can see why Socrates would facilitate discussions in a thoughtful and civil way – and why his students brought him cakes!  I expect he learned to appreciate and value civilized interactions in the way so many of us do – by experiencing a lack of them!

Thank you Xanthippe for the Socratic discussion…and stay away from my cake.


Can You Get Another Person to Change?

The short answer is “no.”

BUT, you can change that person’s behavior – quite a lot – if you know how.

Verbal abuse and emotional abuse are widespread problems in relationships. The workplace bully and the boss from hell are people who have taken emotional abuse tactics to work with them. You can’t always get away from these people, but you can make sure their control tactics affect you less.

There is plenty of information about controlling people and why they treat others as they do. Chances are, if you have to deal with such a person, you don’t care why they are intimidating or critical; you just want them to stop. You probably also know how unlikely it is that such a person could suddenly become happy and kind. You would be pleased if they simply stopped being unkind.

Most advice about dealing with bullies and abusers will advise you to get out of the relationship. This is the optimal solution, but it is not always feasible. In times of double digit unemployment, it may be difficult to leave a job before the boss from hell affects your reputation. It may also be difficult to leave a spouse without financial hardship or the (statistically very real) risk of losing child custody.

But you can change a person’s behavior, if not their nature. There are actions you can take which make you less susceptible to abuse or intimidation. A woman I know changed her behavior at work and had the office bully suddenly asking her out to lunch and wanting to be her friend. Another woman very quickly conditioned her angry boss to express himself far more respectfully. (Note: If you are in a violent relationship, don’t attempt such changes as they could provoke more violence. Consult a shelter; make a safety plan, and a strategy for leaving.)

The most potent defense against bullying is the personal power you project physically. When you project physical strength and power, you send subliminal messages that say, “Don’t mess with me,” regardless of your size, age or gender. Participation in sports helps build physical confidence, but the most effective way to cultivate and project this power is martial arts – even a meditative martial art like t’ai chi.

Make sure you also maintain powerful, centered posture and keep your consciousness in the present moment and centered in your body.

Emotional detachment also prevents you being sucked into control tactics, buying into criticism or accepting inaccurate versions of reality.

Whenever possible, put time and space between you and an emotionally abusive person who is on the attack. Use that time and space to double check their “facts.” Emotional abuse is geared to define you as powerless and incompetent and this may be accomplished with small exaggerations or out and out lies. Check the accuracy of others’ evaluations of you.

Another way to detach, when you find you must be in the presence of abusive anger, blame or criticism, is to cover your solar plexus (above the navel and below the ribcage.) You can fold your hands over this nerve center and it will help you emotionally detach from criticism, blame or anger.

When you are upset and off center, a bully or abuser gets a shot of energy from having power over you. If you detach and stay centered, you deny them that power and you will find that you get a shot of energy from the interaction. Finding it difficult to manipulate you, that person may just take his or her toxic self off to greener pastures.

How to Manipulate and Control Others

If you are an abusive boss or controlling spouse or a manipulative parent, you can greatly enhance any of your control tactics by isolating the one you wish to control, so that the only input they get is from you.
Irene had a boss who was weirdly abusive. Irene found it hard to believe that her supervisor really was manipulative because her machinations just didn’t make a lot of sense. But Irene continually felt a sense of confusion and being off balance which are sure indications that you are dealing with abusive control tactics.

About the time Irene developed an intractable eye twitch, her supervisor gave her two weeks to shape up. Apparently, Irene’s work was far below standard. Irene worked hard to understand what she was doing wrong. Her supervisor couldn’t seem to give her any solid suggestions for improvement.

Irene also asked to buddy up with some of the better performers to see what they did differently. Her supervisor resisted this. In fact, in Irene’s work, it was typical to work with a partner, but she almost always found herself working alone or with someone from a different area who didn’t know her work.

Irene also noticed that she did not receive the same communications as others in her group. If she learned about changes, it was usually by accident. The others in her work group seemed to be doing fine. She felt left out of her work group and became more and more certain that they shared her supervisor’s low opinion of her work.

Eventually, she approached her supervisor’s boss for a reference and discovered that her measurable performance was not substandard. It was above average, though she had a couple of isolated problems. She left that meeting feeling relieved but also confused.

When Irene’s supervisor went on vacation and left another person in charge, it made a huge difference. Communications went out to the entire work group. The group met to handle some urgent tasks. Irene participated. Her work group seemed delighted to see her. They expressed appreciation for her contribution.

This was heartwarming, but also confusing. The group began to open up and talk about things. Most complained bitterly about the supervisor’s poor communication and odd behavior. While she was reluctant to share that she had been counseled for poor performance, Irene told the others a little of her experience. They were surprised.

Several others had similar stories. Irene learned the lesson here. Do not accept one person’s view of reality; especially if it makes you feel confused or out of balance.

Whenever you feel confused, reach out to others and find out what they experience. If Irene’s work group had given her feedback that she was a poor performer, that would have been disappointing, but she would not have been any worse off. As so often happens, their feedback did not support her supervisor’s claims, but validated Irene.

Also, once the team knew that they were being isolated, they banded together to communicate to each other to make up for the supervisor’s lack of communication. Once Irene began communicating with others, she got a realistic sense of her performance that restored her confidence and sense of balance.

It is typical for emotionally abusive people to make efforts to isolate their spouses from family and friends. Hostages are kept isolated so they can be brainwashed. It does not occur to most of us that a supervisor would isolate employees to control them.

A sense of confusion or being out of balance is a clue that you are being manipulated by a controlling person.  You may think you have no reason to doubt the person, but your interactions leave you confused or feeling slightly woosey.  M. Scott Peck in The People of the Lie; his book about human evil, says that the presence of evil always leaves one with a sense of confusion. Pay attention to this. If you feel confusion in response to another person’s claims or assertions, get more information!

If you feel isolated, reach out to more than one other person.

When the Pack Needs an Alpha Dog

There is a right use of power. Some of us are squeamish about exercising power. Perhaps we confuse power with control. It isn’t the same. There are times when it is necessary to exercise power or lose control. We rightly exercise power over those for whom we are responsible. It might be to protect a child or an invalid or to protect our rights from those who don’t respect them.

I once worked in a group which had a leader who was an information expert but not really a manager. This happens quite a bit when a great technical expert becomes a group leader but has never learned how to manage. It happens a lot in IT, healthcare, and sales teams. Technical experts are expected to know things and know how to do things. Managers need to know how to exercise power appropriately and relate to people.

This person left most decisions to the group of a dozen employees. I believe that group management can work. I must admit, however, that I have never personally seen it happen (or even heard of it.) If the pack has even one member who operates in a dog-eat-dog reality, it needs an alpha dog to see to the group’s welfare. The alpha dog can have a style that is participatory or he can be a hard core enforcer, but to be an alpha dog, he must influence group behavior. That requires power, not expertise.

When a technical expert is rewarded for expertise with a promotion to management, her experience is all…well…technical. If this person develops leadership skills as well, then she can exert power. If the technical expert is not a leader, he will not perceive the exercise of power in the work group, so he may not see that there is an enormous difference between participatory management and no management at all. The manager who won’t manage is usually a good employee who wouldn’t dream of dropping the ball in any of his technical tasks, but who fails to even see the ball in his managerial role.

Political power governs the group with no leader. The workplace becomes a series of Survivor episodes and the games tie up energy that could be used productively. If there is no management at all, the group will either get nothing done, or accomplishment will be on the backs of one or two of the group members. Staff may like but will not respect the manager who doesn’t manage. Eventually they will feel resentment.

Employees suffer a lot of unnecessary stress from not knowing how a decision will go and from competing for time and assignments which should be doled out equitably. They feel open to the manager’s judgment but do not feel protected or supported in any real way.

When this team leader says, “Here’s what needs to be done. You all figure out how to do it.” He walks away having no idea that all hell just broke loose behind him. Manipulation takes the place of management, and all sorts of dysfunctional behavior occurs.

The tough nut takes the plum assignment; the narcissist takes a prolonged break; and the dutiful pick up the pieces while trying to avoid being bossed around by those who did none of the real work.

The same scenario plays out in a family in which the parent will not parent and allows minor children to make decisions. The appropriate use of power can steer the family or workgroup into constructive and cooperative behavior. This doesn’t mean being a drill sergeant or throwing your weight around.

Unfortunately, use of power cannot be learned from a textbook or even an MBA program. It must be learned by doing and practicing. When I coach new managers, I teach them to imagine that power is a visible force so they can direct it appropriately.

They soon learn that their imaginings are quite real. Power may be invisible but it is tangible to most of us.

Are You Really too Sensitive?

Your sensitivity may just be appropriate.Why is it that those of us who are on the receiving end of rude, unkind, dishonest or manipulative behavior are so often accused of being too sensitive?

When most of our minds are shaped by the verbal one-upmanship of television, the ideal behavior is to be tough and unaffected by the hurtful behavior of others.  To the TV shaped mentality, there is only power over another; a zero sum game.

This is a rather primitive, unenlightened mentality for the 21st century.  Sensitivity is seen as weakness.  We give credence to the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal who can dish out the most insults and anger.   In light of this, it is hardly a wonder that half of marriages result in divorce and our children bully each other.

“You’re too sensitive,” is a standard line from the verbally or emotionally abusive.  If one complains about manipulative behavior, the complaint is dismissed and the complainer is defined as being “too sensitive.”  Of course, this criticism is abusive too.  Who is to say that who and how you are is wrong?

There is, of course, a kernel of truth to the “too sensitive” criticism, otherwise we would never accept it.  Those of us who are sensitive do need to learn not to internalize the judgments of others too easily.

It is common for those on the receiving end of verbal and emotional abuse to begin to buy into the criticisms of the abuser – whether at work or at home.  They begin to wonder:  Am I really performing so badly?  Did I really cause him to be angry?  Should I truly have known that answer?  Could I really be mentally ill?  Unfortunately, the abusive live in a reality in which a criticism is merely a ploy to get relative power in any situation.  On the other hand, the sensitive person lives in a reality in which a criticism should be considered as an honest opinion and taken at face value.

For those who survive abusive relationships, this sensitivity is the gift that keeps on giving, making them second guess themselves far more and far longer than they should.  But this is the polar opposite of the healthy sensitivity that discerns that rude, manipulative, hurtful behavior is unacceptable.

And, I wonder, how sensitive is too sensitive?  A woman I know complained that her boss greets her with “What is it now?”  A co worker said the problem was that she was too sensitive.  As a manager, I would say the problem is that the boss is too rude…and inefficient.  A neutral greeting would actually be easier and quicker.  But a polite response would not leave the employee feeling insecure and off balance.

And, I suspect that in this supervisor’s sitcom mentality, he needs to create insecurity to have a sense of power.

A client whose husband regularly yelled and swore at her, reports that a marriage counselor suggested she develop a thicker skin about his anger.  She was too sensitive.  I can see no reason for yelling at a spouse unless she’s in the path of a truck or the house is on fire, but somehow the anger was not addressed.  This woman was criticized for not being able to take it.

It often seems that the rude and unkind people who lack empathy are not the problem in our relationships.   We who have empathy enough to be sensitive to the behavior of others should learn to care less about others; be less empathetic.

We should develop thicker skins, be insensitive and unaffected by how others treat us.  What a wonderful world that will create!

More Sins of Omission – Hiding your Light Under a Bushel


Good people often feel that they are promoting good when they simply avoid doing wrong. The new age movement promotes this by preaching non It takes courage to shine brightly.judgment without understanding the concept, and suggesting that inner peace means passivity.

When the enlightened practice non judgment and inner peace, they act, or refrain from acting, from a state of being centered.  Ghandi practiced passive resistance and love, certainly, but his was acourageous stance which he discerned would avoid violence.  He was not passive to avoid action.  When I am passive or non-judgmental to avoid taking a stance, it is a cop out.

More than most people, I understand the power of the unseen and what can be done with energy.  I practice a number of energetic or mental techniques which are invisible and yet quite profound in their results.  But if I see someone drowning, I think it is more appropriate to go physically to their rescue than to send them good energy.  If someone is trespassing, and doesn’t listen to reason, then litigation may be more appropriate than love.  (If you are capable of litigating lovingly, then that’s even better.)

Bullies, abusers, those who lack empathy, sociopaths without conscience…none of these people respond well to good energy.  People who cannot relate to or connect with their fellow humans are often quite oblivious to the energy of others.

In dealing with these selfish forces, those of us who are good should be positive forces for good, rather than passive lumps who are satisfied with simply not being bad.

What does it mean to be a positive force for good? It involves using power appropriately.  We all have god-given power to wield.  It was not bestowed upon us to be hidden or to atrophy from disuse.

Positive goodness may involve speaking up, enforcing boundaries and not allowing trespasses, protecting our dependants, and taking action to promote positive outcomes.  Positive goodness almost always involves courage and risk taking.  It certainly takes discernment to stand up for what is right without continually focusing on what is wrong.

Positive goodness almost always creates a kind of magic in the life of the person who practices it.  Whether you win or lose your particular challenge, the courage you practice and the boundaries you fortify put you in a wiser, more centered place.  From this state of being, your energetic influence on the world is huge and beneficent.

The prize is that you shine more brightly as your true self and experience deep joy rather than fleeting happiness.

Sins of Omission

Survivors of abusive relationships are often accused of choosing to be in that relationship. Yet, I have never met anyone who became involved in an emotionally abusive relationship on purpose or felt they had even an inkling of the abusive nature of their relationship until they were well and truly involved.

Abuse generally doesn’t occur on the first date or even during the first weeks or months of a relationship. People put up with control tactics in the workplace to keep their jobs. When control tactics sneak into a relationship, it is almost always after a commitment is made, and some of these tactics are very subtle.

The accurate hindsight of survivors of verbal abuse can be used as intelligent foresight.  There are some important social behaviors which seem to be lacking or inconsistent in people who are emotionally abusive and controlling.

Covert emotional abuse is very hard to detect by anyone who hasn’t already experienced it! The most insidious emotional abuse involves sins of omission rather than overtly controlling behavior. The abusive behavior is often interspersed with loving behavior, which confuses the situation. The inconsistent loving behavior provides aperiodic conditioning, which is the most powerful kind of conditioning.

Here are some sins of omission that are emotionally abusive and are often precursors to more overt behavior. When you encounter these behaviors in a relationship on a consistent basis, I suggest you stop giving the benefit of the doubt and run like hell in the opposite direction.

Failure to Respond. In the absence of a severe hearing impairment, anyone who does not respond to your greetings, comments or questions is controlling the communication in an anti social way. Relationships in which power is shared involve two way communication. Refusing to respond could be hostile or it could be an indication of a personality problem. You cannot have an equal relationship with anyone who gives you the silent treatment.

Withholding. Whether it is information, affection, approval or resources, withholding is the sign of a competitive relationship. A competitive relationship is not an equal relationship. When you meet someone who fails to make eye contact or say “hello,” I’d recommend you leave skid marks rather than stick around and invite more of this behavior.

Countering.  It may be disguised as a simple difference of opinion, but whenever someone immediately dismisses your point of view without consideration, you are not being treated as an equal.  Argument and discussion involve listening to each others opinions and this should go both ways. 

Forgetting. Some forgetting is simply a failure to remember, and is really a form of withholding if it happens all the time. There simply is not any good excuse for not remembering a spouse’s or partner’s birthday. Subtle forgetting is forgiven more often than it should be. A person who has been a close friend or partner for many months or years, should know who you are, remember important details about you and your life and remember the details of plans you have made together.

In a potentially romantic relationship, forgetting can include forgetting earlier encounters and this can get very confusing. The man (or woman) who looked deeply into your eyes last week and told you that you were significant, but barely remembers who you are when you next meet, is either severely impaired or abusive. This on again off again behavior also has a lot of power to condition you to hang in for the next reward.  In the long run, it won’t be worth it.

When you detect any of these sins of omission repeatedly, stop hanging around. Get out of Dodge! If sins of omission are interspersed with attentive or loving behavior, this is an even worse sign! This is not the behavior pattern exhibited by anyone who can engage in an equal relationship.
These sins of omission don’t just occur in romantic relationships, they are quite common in business and voluntary organizations. If you always volunteer but don’t get recognition, your boss takes credit for your work, or your team leader fails to greet you, you are experiencing control tactics. Start looking for a new organization to join.

Stick with people who give you positive and consistent social cues that they recognize your existence and respect it. Anything less is not good enough.

How You Look from Behind

I used to sit in the back of the room at staff meetings and um, well, uh, I would daydream. In one especially riveting meeting, I noticed that 8 out of 10 women present had styled their hair on the front and sides, but had left the back uncurled or uncombed! From the front, these ladies presented a very together appearance, but they were totally unaware of what they looked like from behind.

This is the way subconscious feelings and patterns affect us. You meet someone who presents a cheery, positive face to the world, but you sense an underlying insecurity, sadness, or even anger. No matter how positive and socially skilled you are, your innermost feelings are there, broadcasting subliminal messages that may contradict your demeanor.

Most of the time, this is no big deal. We all have a mix of conscious and unconscious things going on. But if you are pretending to like someone you truly dislike, they will sense it. If you are secretly insecure, I guarantee, most everyone else is aware of it on some level.

How do you know what unconscious obstacles and patterns may be tripping you up if you are not conscious of them? You can become conscious of the unconscious by looking at reflections of yourself, much as my colleagues at the meeting should have done when fixing their hair in the morning.

The first mirror is body feelings. Many of us have been schooled to ignore feelings, but they never lie. Make an affirmation about your wildest dream and see how it makes you feel. For example, “Men find me so attractive they run up to me at the mall and offer me gifts.” Then listen – really listen – to your body. If the statement is true you will feel peaceful. If the statement is false, you will feel some dissonance, or tension, somewhere in your body. (Hint: probably in your belly.)

Another great mirror is other people, but look at the reactions of most people not just a few. Do you get odd reactions from people in general? Are people often rude for no reason? You are probably not a truly awful person, or you wouldn’t be reading this. People are reacting to some dissonance they sense in your person. They probably are not conscious of their reaction, so don’t bother asking them.

The third good mirror is an intuitive coach, counselor or consultant. Find one who has expertise in the area you have trouble with, whether relationships, marketing, managing people, or communications. Intuition helps the expert to quickly identify your unconscious patterns and obstacles and point them out to you. Their expertise helps them guide you to deal with the issues identified. A good intuitive expert will not distort your reflection much.

Being the Stalker Instead of Being Stalked

Those who are in relationship with critics or controllers can develop the habit of reacting to events but avoiding positive action.  Being reactive will save your skin when you under attack of any kind, but being reactive is not so useful for getting whatyou want out of life, and it narrows your horizons until your goal is simply to get by.

If you are a student of popular new age metaphysics, this reactivity is reinforced by the notions of using the power of thought and being open to receive.  These ideas can be powerful, but not without the magic of inspired action!

When the subconscious mind is full of limitations and receiving is limited to the next criticism or argument, action becomes reactive instead of inspired.  Getting away from trouble will probably not lead toward fulfilled desires.

If this becomes habitual, you are the stalked, not the stalker. Here are a few exercises you can try to get into stalking mode and actively or proactively seeking rather than reacting.

When religious evangelists come to the door, asking if you ever think about the afterlife, tell them you definitely do!  Greet them enthusiastically and invite them to your church.  Keep a church bulletin handy to press into their hands and tell them you hope to see them this Sunday.  Of course, most of these groups are not allowed to take material from other churches.

Is there someone in your family who frequently asks you for money or loans or favors?  Pick up the phone now, dial them and ask them for $50 until payday or see if they will commit to helping you clean the gutters.  Of course, unlike you, they’ll probably have plenty of excuses handy for why they can’t help you out.

Next time you see a panhandler in front of the post office, approach him or her and ask for a quarter for your parking meter so you won’t get a ticket.  Of course, they won’t have any spare change, though they were hoping you did.

Who knows?  If you try these activities, you could get some money or help or have new guests at church.  My guess is you’ll simply discover that even the panhandler has better boundaries than people who live with critics or controllers.

The more important gift will be to have some practice at pursuing instead of avoiding.  You may even find yourself going after more important desires… or telling your critic to stuff it.

You are now the stalker.

Vampire Protection that Doesn’t Stink

Psychic Vampire Repellant that Doesn't Stink

You might not use the word “vampire,” but you have surely met one or two people whose company drains you of your life force. Far from joining the ranks of the immortal, you will come out of these encounters depleted and depressed. If you don’t have really great boundaries (and many of us don’t,) then you have probably met quite a few people who drain your energy.
People who drain your energy appear to do so in a variety of ways. They may complain a lot, or perhaps they subtly put you down, or report the unflattering things other people said about you (but don’t believe them.) They may goad you; reminding you of something unpleasant, or perhaps they flaunt what they have but you lack. The long and short of it is, they upset you and this upset is how they drain your energy. Why do they do this? Because they can – and it works! It energizes them.
Those who perceive energy know how this drain is accomplished. Those who measure energy are learning that intuitive people are perceiving this accurately. When you get a shock or a trauma, or a sudden let down, the energy circulating in or around your body will pause or stop or even reverse its flow.
A pause in the energy flow is useful for playing dead to fool a looming predator but it can make you vulnerable to the psychic predator. All of our interactions with others involve exchanges of energy, and when the vampire has upset your energy flow, he or she is able to tip the balance of the exchange and tap your energy. This can leave you feeling drained and an energy vampire feeling uplifted.
Often you don’t notice this until after it happens. The upsets can be subtle and unconscious and leave you wondering why you suddenly feel low or thinking you are coming down with some virus.
The bright side of this kind of robbery is that it is relatively safe for you to simply refuse to give up the goods. By being present and aware, you can deny the vampire access to your energy. You may even be the one to benefit from their upset energy which will discourage them from future predations.
Simply being present around difficult people is simple. It isn’t always easy because most of us are in the habit of being dissociated so our consciousness is off somewhere in the next county. The trick is to be mindful of difficult people and when your mood suddenly changes, become aware of your body.
It takes only seconds to become aware of your body. Feel your hands and feet. Be aware of looking out of your eyes. Put a hand over your center and be here, now. Imagine the life force that flows through your core around your spine. Feel rooted on the earth and sense a light or warmth that flows in the top of your spine and fills you up.
Practice this feeling so you can summon it at will. If you live with an energy vampire, I recommend some martial arts training to learn to operate in a present and centered way.
If you are present, the vampire’s put downs will be recognized for what they are. You will not internalize them. You will not be so upset by them. You maintain your state. When this happens, the energy vampire may become upset. In this case, the energy exchange will work in your favor and you will leave the encounter feeling better.
You will have also encouraged an emotionally draining person to interact with you in more open and honest ways.

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